Some 300 foes of marijuana prohibition attended the NORML Conference in Washington, D.C. last week. The crowd seemed younger (at least 50 students) and more soulful than in past years, and the mood more positive, thanks in part to the news from Santa Cruz.
On April 21, U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel issued an injunction that will allow the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana to cultivate! The ruling stems from a civil suit by WAMM after DEA agents raided their garden in September 2002. Judge Fogel relied heavily on the Raich decision -an October 2003 ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordering the feds to respect state law when patients obtain cannabis in ways that don't affect interstate commerce.
Even if the Bush Administration appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, it could be eighteen months or longer before a ruling comes down. So the WAMMers, who now are sexing their foot-high plants on a hillside clearing in Davenport, can feel confident about harvesting them this fall.
Here's what WAMM organizer Valerie Corral -a new member of the NORML Board of Directors-had to say in Washington on April 24:
"It's an absolute joy to be here to share this with you. It's an amazing time in our lives, as you might imagine... [Her husband] Mike's not here today. He wanted me to send his love and his gratitude to all of you. He's actually in the garden [applause]... It's really all of us that have made this happen. Our gratitude to Professor Gerald Uelmen, who's a remarkable constitutional lawyer, a brilliant man. And to DPA [the Drug Policy Alliance]. And to Ben Rice and Bingham McCutchen [lawyers]. And to NORML. To the city and county of Santa Cruz [for joining the suit as co-plaintiffs]. To MAP [the Media Awareness Project] and to MPP [the Marijuana Policy Project], who all have supported and helped us.
"There are so many people who aren't here who might have been here if they weren't in prison, if they hadn't died. Twenty-three of our members have died since the raid on Sept. 5, 2002. Last year we had to grow clandestinely. Hiding just doesn't make your pot as good. One thing we've come to understand about growing medicine is how important the involvement of an individual is. The provision of our own medicine - providing for ourselves!- whether it's making muffins or making capsules or making tinctures or topical solutions, there are any number of possibilities... And growing our own medicine. It's that particular opportunity that we share in creating our own nourishment and healing. It's so incredible, as many of you know, to partake in that...
"Pharmaceutical companies see the multi-billion dollar paychecks that lie ahead for them. We can't let them take away our breakin' it up, rollin' it up, and lightin' it up. They say it's so bad for us to smoke. Hell, if they really cared they'd be worried about diesel, wouldn't they? Wouldn't they be worried about what they've dumped into our rivers and what we breathe?...
"If four-twenty signifies smoking, maybe four-twenty-one, the day that we got the injunction to be the first legal growers in the United States -besides the feds [applause]. So when you hear four-twenty-one, dig a hole and plant a seed in the ground...
"I think about our history, how far back it goes, and Brownie Mary and Dennis Peron, that wild, maniacal firecracker, and so many people who were called criminals. We have to say thank you to the gay movement because the gay movement was so used to being persecuted, so ready through their own suffering, so marginalized -and further marginalizedwhen the AIDS epidemic was called a 'gay' illness, and they were told 'your illness belongs to you because you are gay.'
"So there was an army of people -intelligent, remarkable, courageous people-ready for the fight. They were mobilized already. And they brought medical marijuana further. And we brought medical marijuana further.
"History fades and it creates a future. It doesn't remember our names. And it's made from a kind of labyrinthine unfolding. It just unfolds and unfolds and it's confused and convoluted. And it's disparite. It's not often, really, that the story you hear is the story that was. I mean, come on, Hollywood, you know? What sells!
"The truth is kind of boring. If you listened to what I've had to say over the last 12 years [VC was first busted for cultivation in 1992] or the last 30 years, since I started using marijuana medicinally, you'd be bored to tears. History really is a million stories that are never told...
"This moment is going to lend itself to creating freedoms built on truth instead of the lies and the fear that was perpetrated through this administration and administrations before it. Democrats have lied to save themselves instead of standing up and saying no. We need 10 more parties...
"This is our job, our work -to tell the truth and be honest and to take the risks involved in defending the truth. The liars are angry and they are defending something that stands on nothing except fear. This is a moment not only to rejoice in our victory but also to remember from where it comes and how much liberty has been lost and sacrificed out of fear...
"You don't need the DEA breathing down your neck to be afraid... We are afraid, it's human, it protects us. But it allows us to give up on the truth, or to back away from it. Fear won't help you at the moment of death, when you need all your courage and all your reliance on truth.
"Sometimes I'm asked to articulate the effects marijuana has on people who are facing death. I don't remember dying, if I have, but I've had the great honor of being invited to sit with many friends who are facing death... Usually I talk to smaller groups so we can talk together about our own experiences. I call my talk 'Courting Death as a Lover.' You have to hang around with people who are dying to be able to say that and to find some humor in it... A lot of my friends are dead so they can't complain. But the ones that aren't don't, and haven't.
"They've helped me formulate an idea.... of building a space for our members to die. A lot of WAMM members -77 percent now, it was 87 percent but we've lost quite a few members... A lot of our membership is terminally ill and need a place to be. An assistant care facility is $547 a day in Santa Cruz -be put in a home, essentially. We're building a non-profit to serve our membership. It'll be small, a boarding house, a place where people can go... and speak to the people around them about what they want instead of being stuck and poked and prodded and sheets and noise.
"This is how we feel we can best serve our community of people who are facing death.
"One of our goals is to have our garden, where we grow our food as well as marijuana, participate in some of the future studies, but not [producing] the schwag that the government provides... We keep talking about more things to do as if we don't have enough things to do. But we really don't. I mean we're busy all the time, doing work all the time, thinking and conjuring and imagining and all we really have to do is do it, and then not hold it so tightly to ourselves, because really good ideas are never thought in single minds, they're coming simultaneously and floating all around waiting to be realized... And we share it with everybody we can and then we give it away, give it away, give it away.
Whose Drug War Is It, Anyway?
The NORML conference was held in the basement ballroom of a fabulous Shriner's Temple [art deco meets wannabe muslim] on K Street in downtown Washington, where homeless people are everywhere and emergency vehicles were constantly racing by with sirens blaring. The once-beautiful city has been whupped with an ugly stick. The White House isn't even white anymore, it's smudged with smog; you'd think Laura Bush, who Cloroxes her closets (!) would do something about it. Sharpshooters patrol the roof and green cyclone fencing extends the perimeter by about 50 yards in all directions. Along the sidestreets are barricades made of rubble, broken lumber, barbed wire, leaking sandbags... If the ambience isn't third world, it's two-and-three quarters.
Journalist Eric Schlosser gave the keynote talk on Saturday, April 24 and a written version appeared on the op-ed page of the New York Times two days later. Schlosser's anti-prohibition arguments were sound, to-the-point, and clearly expressed, as you'd expect from the author of "Fast Food Nation." He revealed that he drinks alcohol recreationally "three or four times a week" and does not smoke marijuana, although he has in the past. When Schlosser asserted that marijuana "should not be smoked by young people, schizophrenics, pregnant women and people with heart conditions," there was no murmur of surprise or disappointment. NORML draws a polite crowd.
In a question session after his talk, Schlosser was asked to name the forces driving the war on drugs. He singled out "the religious right" and "law enforcement." The questioner had asked if "corporate America" plays a major role, but Schlosser didn't go there. Nobody ever does, it seems.
To use a cliche, and without meaning to put down my fellow primates, the pharmaceutical industry is the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the room -unacknowledged-whenever "drug-policy reform" is discussed. The corporate drug manufacturers employ more lobbyists than we, the people employ Congressmen -and pay them more. Their chief political tactician is Tommy Boggs, son of the late Hale Boggs (the Louisiana Congressman who, as Speaker of the House in the early 1950s, pushed through mandatory-minimum sentencing for drug-related offenses). Thomas Hale Boggs, Jr., who is Cokie Roberts's older brother, heads a lobbying firm, Patton Boggs, whose most lucrative account is the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (Merck, Lilly, Pfizer, et al). The mechanisms by which PhRMA exerts influence and control over the government are there, in Washington, for the exposing.
p.s. A glance at the Patton Boggs web page turned up this proud claim of work the firm has done "pro bono" (for free): "We have represented a group of indigenous Peruvian Indian tribes in negotiating a complex bio-diversity agreement with several universities and major pharmaceutical companies as part of a world-wide effort to promote the development of new pharmaceutical products through the collection and use of genetic resources with traditional use by indigenous peoples. This is the only project in which representatives of indigenous peoples are actually at the negotiating table, and the first in which indigenous peoples have had the benefit of independent legal advice."
"Independent legal advice," indeed. More like, "Come into my house and I will give you gingerbread."
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